NAVAL AIR SYSTEMS COMMAND, PATUXENT RIVER, Md. – Education and relationships are essential to providing world-class support to the fleet. That’s according to Billy Biggs, Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) Supportability Test and Evaluation (ST&E) Branch (AIR 188.8.131.52) manager. Biggs, who is responsible for policies, tools, guidance and procedures related to ST&E, recently received the Daniel L. Nega Excellence in Logistics Leadership Award at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland.
Established in 2014, the annual award recognizes a NAVAIR Logistics and Industrial Operations (AIR 6.0) civilian or military employee for excellence in commitment and dedication to the people, mission and professionalism of AIR 6.0.
“Research and Engineering (AIR 4.0) and Test and Evaluation (AIR 5.0) competencies focus on meeting a specification requirement in a written document,” Biggs said. “ST&E takes a different approach. Rather than asking how well a system works, we ask if the system can be repaired when it breaks—because eventually it will.”
ST&E works to determine if the fleet can operate using the logistics elements identified in the Product Support Package developed by the program manager and provides the evaluation results to the product support manager (PSM) for validation. “We also use this information as a pass/fail prediction indicator as a program prepares for Initial Operational Test and Evaluation,” he said. “And finally, part of our job is to help the other competencies understand this way of evaluating the entire system.”
Biggs’ outreach effort reaches beyond the ST&E world. Aside from regularly meeting with program executive officers (logistics) and PSMs on supportability gaps, Biggs is an instructor for the College of Logistics and Industrial Operations and Defense Acquisition University, supplementing classes with lectures on real life examples. Biggs is continuously looking for opportunities to engage AIR 4.0, AIR 5.0, Logistics Management Integration Department (AIR 6.6) and Aviation Readiness and Resource Analysis Department (AIR 6.8) personnel in the ST&E process.
The drive to find supportability gaps stems from personal experience. “Those of us that lived in the reality created by not funding requirements now have a chance to have an impact on the very things we used to complain about,” said the retired avionics senior chief. “We find the issues that the fleet has had to contend with for years and accepted as the normal way of doing business and bring them to providers’ attention.”
The Department of Defense acquisition process is complex, demanding and requires specialized knowledge. Biggs said he wants to make sure his workforce possesses the skills necessary for success. For instance, he discovered that while the ST&E disciplined approach was almost second nature to many in his branch because they served on active duty, it did not necessarily hold true for everyone.
To address this, Biggs established a training track within his branch to develop interns into ST&E testers. “One of the things the Navy taught me was to train your relief,” Biggs said. “As a chief petty officer I was taught to train junior officers as one day they may become our commanding officers. Since then, I’ve always taken pride in developing those who are junior to me. New employees will excel if they know we care about them and are active in their careers.”
Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division Industrial and Logistics Planning Management/Sustainment Department Competency Manager and Site Lead (Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division 6.7) Mindy Hermann nominated Biggs for the award, in part, for reinstating the Aviation Maintenance Officer (AMO) School seats for interns. He took it on when he was working with a new employee who had no aircraft maintenance experience and was struggling trying to decipher what everyone was talking about.
“It occurred to me that if I could get him enrolled in the AMO course, he would learn about squadron and maintenance department structures and other critical information,” Biggs said.
Biggs realized others would benefit from this experience as well. “I decided to take it one step further. Instead of asking for just one billet, I asked for multiple billets and had interns compete for the course. Leadership liked the idea and it is funded. We are investing in our future, which is exactly what we should be doing,” he said.
Logistics Management Specialist and Navy Acquisition Development Program Tour Coordinator Steven Dittmer was one of several ST&E employees who attended the course in 2017 at Biggs’ suggestion. He came away with a greater sense of the struggles and obstacles faced by the fleet.
There, Dittmer heard firsthand from officers, senior enlisted and classmates on overcoming challenges he never considered before. “The one experience in AMO school that I will never take for granted is the simulation showing us what it’s like in a day in the life of a fleet maintenance officer,” he said. “I use those perspectives today to determine how to best serve our fleet every time a decision is being made.”
When the nine-day Systems Test Fundamentals Course at the Test Pilot School (TPS) Short Course was opened to ST&E, Biggs jumped at the chance and selected six of his team members.
The purpose was not just to educate his workforce, but to establish relationships with other readiness stakeholders. “First, engineers and logisticians need to know each other. And second, I wanted ST&E personnel to sample what a flight test is like. Understanding the role each of us play in how readiness is evaluated and generated creates a truly integrated team.”
Ted Van Brunt, deputy branch manager supporting Program Executive Officer (Air, Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), Assault and Special Missions Program) (PEO-A) and Program Management (Acquisition) (AIR 1.0), said the TPS short course gave him a better appreciation of the importance of fielding capabilities quickly. “Our class worked through a system’s entire testing process over the course of two weeks under a time constraint,” Van Brunt said. “I’m more familiar with what type of data needs to be collected to identify maintenance issues before our products go to the fleet.”
Biggs’ attributes his selection for the award to the hard work of his teammates and their contributions to ST&E’s decision making process. He said that managing by consensus and tackling problems together taps into everyone’s different ideas, approaches and perspectives while at the same time developing critical thinking skills.
“Rather than directing what I want done, my team will get together and come up with courses of action that we all can agree on,” he said. “I’ve heard some terrific ideas from my employees and I thought, ‘Why didn’t I think of this?’ This approach reinforces a culture of teamwork.”
Dittmer said proof of Biggs’ management approach of openness and active encouragement can be seen throughout the ST&E branch. “His open door policy allows employees to walk into his office at any time to discuss whatever matter brought to him,” Dittmer said. “His interest in our development and our input is driven by the understanding that a team cannot be great if they don’t collaborate and work together.”